Below I discuss using not only—but also in my book Video Games and American Culture. My publisher, Lexington Books, specified that I use the Chicago Manual of Style, which I had never used. Fortunately, Charlotte has access not only to the physical manual in the Library’s reference cart but also (see what I did there?) to the online manual. Absolute lifesaver. The style guide, used quite often in History fields, details how to format a plethora of items. I mainly needed the citation formatting rules because I’m more familiar with MLA or APA, but I consulted it for many other standard practices. By the way, if you’re needing basic citation help, I HIGHLY recommend Purdue’s OWL. Even though they waitlisted me for my PhD, I continue to use that resource—since 1994!
Sentences for Analysis
- In the very popular Madden NFL series, gamers not only assume control of an avatar representing a real football player, but they also control coaching decisions and can switch control to other teammates during game play.
In that sentence, there are two independent clauses: one of 13 words and another of 16 words. If I delete “they”, we no longer have a second independent clause, so we could remove the comma and have the following:
- In the very popular Madden NFL series, gamers not only assume control of an avatar representing a real football player but also control coaching decisions and can switch control to other teammates during game play.
Now, consider you’re editing a larger work and you come across this sentence:
- Patriarchal attitudes throughout Western civilization contributed not only to women’s disenfranchisement in the United States (until 1920), but also to inequality leading to a “glass ceiling” that limits women’s roles in leadership. Betsy Atkins reports, “out of the Fortune 500 today, women [CEOs] number just 24.”
This sentence is 46 words and includes a quotation. As Kolln & Gray note, commas can be used for emphasis and clarity. If you think a sentence is too confusing without a comma, make the call to put it in, but aim for consistency.
However, after that discussion above that basically says you can either use a comma or not (as long as you’re consistent), I HIGHLY suggest NOT using one if most of the sentences in a piece of writing have short sentences. Because my book used not only—but also in four sentences that were all under 50 words and only one had a quotation, I should have omitted the comma. If I had longer sentences with more subordination or longer subordinating and coordinating structures (including more with quotations), I would think including the comma throughout would be the better choice. Regardless of your decision (outside of class), be consistent. Because my experience tells me including the comma in this case is less standard in technical/professional communication, we’ll consider it not appropriate in this course.
In case the above wasn’t clear, follow Kolln & Gray’s punctuation rule for the correlative conjunction not only—but also (p. 52). Remember, you use commas with coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS) when separating independent clauses.
Here are two more sentences with discussion from Video Games and American Culture with the correlative conjunction not only—but also:
- This chapter continues debunking this specious link not only* by citing the data that contradicts the link, but also by analyzing the rhetoric of those claims and explaining the American cultural love of power and violence inspiring violent media.
- *In the published book, I actually use the related “not just” instead of “not only.” There’s a slight change in meaning, but we’ll set that aside for now.
The above example comes at the end of Ch. 2’s introduction—right before the transition to a new section of the chapter. The emphasis, according to Kolln & Gray (p. 52), is on the second part of the sentence, specifically “violent media,” which I discuss I the next section. Using the comma also “signal[s] a slight pause” (Kolln & Gray p. 48) and places emphasis on what comes directly after. That means emphasis is on “by analyzing the rhetoric of,” which is the overall theoretical justification for my analysis—rhetorical analysis. However, for consistency, I shouldn’t have used the comma before “but also.”
- The sports video game not only allows gamers to have more perfect versions of themselves, but also more convenient playing situations.
This 21-word sentence is in the middle of a paragraph and has no transitional emphasis like the previous one. While I could say that I wanted to emphasize the second part of the sentence (convenient playing situations) by using the comma, for consistency, I should NOT have used commas with correlative conjunctions unless they separated two independent clauses. Maybe if the sentences were longer than the average length of sentences (50+ words) the comma before but also would be the appropriate thing to do. Notice that this rule—while it may seem absolute—is a choice. In technical writing, consistency is paramount, and that should be our guide.
Final point on this. Ch. 6 will discuss correlative conjunctions as “power words” for emphasis in more detail (pp. 169-170). One key component to using any grammatical choice for rhetorical effect is to be strategic and use these techniques sparingly. I use the not only—but also construction four times in 150 pages. Considering the book’s word count is over 50,000, that’s not very much. I do use “but also” without “not only” twice, so, again, it’s pretty rare. I use “not only” without “but also” four times. I tend to drop the “also” when I have two independent clauses. For instance, consider the following sentences:
- Not only can one be Cam Newton (playing on the couch with his #1 jersey on), but the video game reproduces the roar of the crowd in the Carolina Panthers’ virtual stadium.
- Not only is it very difficult to live “off the grid,” but it is next to impossible not to absorb cultural ideology.
- Furthermore, not only are post-apocalyptic video games popular, but TV and films in this genre are as well.
The last example, with the signpost “Furthermore,” is the topic sentence of a paragraph. The new paragraph needs that transition from video game analysis to discussion of other post-apocalyptic entertainment. Reviewers can be so picky about a writer switching from one media to another unless there’s an obvious signal to the reader that that’s what’s to come. Just my two cents.